Ask any sensible man with concern for art and he’ll tell you that photography stands alongside painting and sculpture as one of the noblest disciplines. Hand him a beautifully bound book bursting with samples of this art form, however, and he’ll slide it underneath his coffee mug to protect the table from stains.
This list of our favorites represents an attempt, however incomplete, to reseat the photo book in its rightful place alongside the
Scarface posters Warhols lining your walls. We wouldn’t call it a compendium of the greatest photographers or a comprehensive survey of the medium — it’s just a few selections to help broaden your photographic horizons, or at the very least spark some compelling conversation around the coffee table.
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|All About Eve
The foremost female photographer of her era, Arnold made a career of photographing iconic figures of the day, including Macolm X, Clark Gable, and Queen Elizabeth. Her portraits of Marilyn Monroe, however, are the cornerstones of her work. In fact, Arnold found Monroe so expressive a subject that she took a portfolio’s worth of photos of Marilyn alone. $60
|Halsman: A Retrospective
Phillippe Halsman photographed artists on their terms. That’s not to say he didn’t imprint his own unique and inimitable sensibility on each and every photo that he took, but his portraits always conveyed more about the subject than the photographer. Halsman’s surreal images of Dali and Hitchcock, for example, place the artists directly inside one of the bizarre worlds they were so fond of creating. $20
Fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon straddled the worlds of art and commercial photography to an unparalleled degree; his work appeared both in the pages of Vogue and on the walls of the Metropoltian Museum of Art, often simultaneously. So powerfully did Avedon capture the world of fashion that his work came to exist in dialogue with it, as instrumental in shaping future trends as the designers themselves. Richardavedon.com
Madonna. Seal. Fabio. Certain artists just outgrow the whole “two name” thing. Unlike the aforementioned trio, however, Hungarian photographer Brassai’s talent is undeniable. His moody, romantic urban night scenes made devastating use of black and white, while his gritty portraits would pave the way for later artists like Diane Arbus. $15
|Larry Burrows: Vietnam
Before such photos, words fall short. LIFE magazine photographer Larry Burrows’s iconic images of the Vietnam War, which paint in vivid color the horror and humanity of conflict, are collected in this award-winning posthumous volume. Burrows was killed, along with two fellow photographers, when their helicopter was shot down in Laos. $23+
|Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light
German-British photographer Bill Brandt’s career can be summed up as a study in contrast. His haunting photographs of the human body more closely resemble rounded stones, whittled by eons of tidal shaping, than any carnal object. Indeed, Brandt often framed his subjects’ bodies on a bed of such stones, allowing them to sink fully into their surroundings and become indistinguishable. $35
Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II, a spare, hyper-linear portrait of the Rhein River, sold for $4.3 million in 2011 to become the most expensive photograph ever sold. The German photographer crafts large-scale, vibrantly colored crowd and architecture scenes in stunning collapse of the macro and micro. $48
|Images of the Seventh Day
Kenna’s minimalist landscapes appear more etched than photographed, composed in leaden black and white and wrought in pencil-tip detail. This aptly titled compendium features photographs of a world incomplete, as though these sketches were merely a blueprint from which a full-color, lushly detailed landscape might one day be born. $32
|Heaven to Hell
If you were to compose a photo as diametrically opposed to Michael Kenna as humanly possible, toss in some celebrities and sprinkle on some fairy dust, you’d have something pretty close to a David LaChappelle. The American pop artist is not for everyone — depending on your disposition, he might strike you as the Fellini of photography or the Tommy Wiseau of the still frame. LaChappelle’s success and influence, however, cannot be denied. $15
|The Early Years
The first thing people say when they see a Kurtesz image is, “how did he do that?” This is usually followed abruptly by, “no seriously, how the hell did he do that?” This collection of his early work will leave you puzzled, intrigued and eager for more. $13
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